One can get so carried away by the wondrous fact of our Indic- Classical Civilization having withstood the onslaught of invaders for centuries, and yet flourishing like a bay tree. It is probably in contemplation of this that a serious historian like R. D. Banerjee waxes almost lyrical about Skandagupta, one of the last Gupta greats:
‘He was the last hero of Magadha who realized that it was his duty to defend the gates of India with the last drop of his life blood. He spent his whole life in the performance of this noble task and at the end of it, he sacrificed himself cheerfully in the performance of his sacred duty.’
The early years
The last years of the reign of the Emperor Kumaragupta I, son of Chandragupta II Vikramaditya, were very eventful. After Chandragupta II had warded off the threat of the Sakas and the Kushanas, a new danger, possibly much more fearsome, loomed large on India’s north western borders. The Hunas, known to Western historians as the Huns and to the Chinese as the Huing Nu, had spread over Southern Asia and Europe like swarms of locusts, at the end of the 5th Century A.D. Attila the Hun bathed Europe in rivers of blood while the Hunas under Toramana made short work of India’s north western defences. In fact, the Hunas became so much of a trademark of bestiality and ferociousness, that the Germans were referred to by the allied forces during and after the First World War as ‘Huns’.
At the fag end of Kumaragupta’s rule, as per the Bhitari pillar inscription, Skandagupta soundly defeated an enemy people called ‘Pushyamitras’. The inscription states that these people ‘had great resources in men and money’ and while defeating them, he had to spend a whole night on the bare ground. It is not clear who these Pushyamitras were. Some historians consider them a tribe allied to the Hunas while Mazumdar and Altekar believe that they lived in Central India, probably in the Narmada valley.
Be that as it may, this feat probably aided Skandagupta in ascending the throne after his father’s death. This becomes crucial as Skandagupta was probably a son of one of the junior queens of Kumaragupta, and not of his chief queen, Anantadevi, which may also be a reason for exclusion of his mother’s name in any of the inscriptions or records of his reign. Kumaragupta probably chose this dynamic son over his other sons, notably over Purugupta, the son of the chief queen.
This unorthodox selection is also attested to by the Junagadh Rock Inscription, which states that Goddess Lakshmi reflected upon his virtues and foibles and chose him while rejecting all other sons of the sovereign.
The defeat of the Hunas
The Bhitari pillar inscription specifically mentions the conquest of the Hunas and the Junagadh rock inscription in more general terms as ‘conquest of the Mlechcchas’; though the Mlechcchas cannot conclusively be said to mean the Hunas. The pillar inscription mentions that Skandagupta thoroughly defeated the Hunas. The indirect confirmation for the same lies in the fact that there is no further record of Huna depredations in India until the beginning of the 6th century A.D.
Though the Hunas did eventually succeed in turning the weakened Gupta empire into a vassalage but were again conclusively defeated by Yashodharma of Malwa and his confederate army of various kings, but that is another story, another glorious epoch of resistance.
Skandagupta, probably in honour of this great victory, assumed the title of ‘Vikramaditya’, like his illustrious grandfather.
Other facets of his life
Little is known about the life of this great ruler apart from the facets mentioned in the inscriptions like Bhitari and Junagadh. The Junagadh inscription also gives details about the careful selection of his provincial governor, and the public works of this governor, Chakrapalita.
This sun of valour was also tolerant in his religious policies, indeed like most of the great Indic rulers. He was a staunch Vaishnava himself, but there is evidence of his patronage of other faiths and sects. The Kahaum pillar inscription records an endowment in favour of Jainism, and the Indore copper plate inscription, that of the consecration of a temple to the Sun God.
India, the condescendingly pagan country to the Abrahamic faiths, periodically gave birth to such warrior children who devoted their lives to defending her borders, and to preserving her Dharmic values. It is majorly due to such defenders of Dharma that India has remained what it has always been. It is rather ironical that the Greeks, who named India after the Indus, had to forfeit their polytheistic Hellenic culture. And today India has retained its ancient civilization- not as dregs- but in nearly full measure.
Indeed, India stands as a beacon of light and reassurance to the world, with its everlasting creed-let noble thoughts come to us from every side. We need to be appropriately grateful to these warrior defenders, due to which we are able to profess and practice our ancient religion in our ancient land.
- The Gupta Empire- Radha Kumud Mookerji
- A study of important Gupta inscriptions- Manabendu Banerjee
- The age of the imperial Guptas- R D Banerji
- The Vakataka-Gupta Age- Majumdar and Altekar
About the Author
Kranti Sardesai, has spent her formative years in Goa and is now working in a senior managerial position with the Securities Market Regulator, in her Karmabhoomi, Mumbai. She is a voracious reader, with interests ranging from history, music, and cookery. She manages to hold on to one of her early loves, history, and culture, amidst her daily corporate hustle.